A group of people sit in a sunny, grassy clearing in a forest and wave at the camera

© Sergio Lopez @notsergioh

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Flock Together: In our own words

The positivity and radical power of Flock Together – the UK’s first birdwatching collective for and by people of colour – as told by its members. 

Flock Together is a birdwatching collective with a difference. In 2020, Creative Director Ollie Olanipekun and Football Coach and Activist Nadeem Perera met via Instagram and instantly connected over their mutual love of birds. Ollie shared his longtime dream of starting a birdwatching collective for his community, and so Flock Together was born. Flock entered the world during the Covid-19 lockdown, against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter, to harness nature’s power to recharge, restore and inspire while challenging narratives about what nature is and who it belongs to.

I discovered Flock through their collaboration with The North Face and Gucci. It was innovative, slick and surprising – maybe as surprising as being with more than 300 people of colour in Epping, jostling to glimpse a wading bird. I didn’t add that for dramatic effect – it actually happened!  

A group of women standing in a circle in the sun looking in the same direction, there are trees in the background

© Dennis Eluyefa @denden_man

I never thought I’d join a birdwatching group because I didn’t see people like me out in nature. In fact, a listicle for The Guardian about celebrity birdwatchers includes zero people of colour and only two women. I, admittedly, also used to think all birds on water were ducks. Despite my lack of bird knowledge, I always felt connected to nature through outdoor mindfulness groups, but I was usually the only person of colour in those spaces, and it felt lonely.

Flock Together is a birdwatching collective for people of colour that refuses to be defined by that fact. Its impact is global and cross-cultural – with chapters of Flock in Japan, a published book and an oh-so-relaxing album featuring the Sounds of Nature.

Flock Together feels like a reclamation and a remembrance for something I didn’t know I was missing – communion with the elements, birds and with people who understand me. I believe Ollie and Nadeem’s genius branding and conscious creation of a truly inclusive community is why they’ve had a cultural impact beyond any ordinary interest group. On top of that, I can now tell a moorhen from a coot.

Flock Together’s spirit and success demonstrates humans aren’t so different from our feathered friends – we both know life’s better when you feel you belong. Even through dark times, my friends at Flock remind me how good it is to be us. 

The spirit of togetherness and solidarity running through Flock meant it felt only right to create this article with my community. I asked them to share how Flock Together has positively benefited them, and to name their favourite bird. Here’s Flock Together in our own words. 

A photographer from behind, as they take a photo of a group of people in a forest

© Dennis Eluyefa @denden_man

Sara, a conservationist and Flock’s resident animal expert, described Flock Together as “like a homecoming” bringing “the joy of birding back” and releasing birdwatching from its “pale, male and stale” reputation. She calls Flock Together more than a group, describing it as “a place where you feel held”. Sara couldn’t name a favourite bird, so she chose three. Puffins because they’re cute and their children are called pufflings. Chinstrap penguins because they take thousands of three-to-four-second-long microsleeps a day. Finally, the loggerhead strike – a bird the publication The Atlantic calls “a hawk trapped in the body of a finch” – that impale its prey on thorny branches. 

“I love me an Egyptian goose,” says fellow Flock member and ray of sunshine Jasmine. “I’ve started to see these breddas everywhere in places I’d have least expected, including my small, small local park – there is no pond – what are they doing? They’re gorgeous too.” Jasmine feels she’s found a little family in Flock united by a love for pigeons. “But also, a family that I can attend social justice events, including Palestine, Sudan solidarity, protests and events. They are such sweet, sensitive and kind souls.”

A person looks through binoculars into the sky

© Sergio Lopez @notsergioh

Photographer Michael loves that Flock is a safe space to learn “about birds and birding at our own pace. Flock never patronises you if you don’t know your parakeet from your Egyptian goose.” It’s also been a space for him to connect with nature and other people of colour “who come from an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds” yet seem to be united by shared life experiences. Michael’s favourite bird is an egret – also known as an angel bird because of its white halo of feathers. 

Sharmay’s forever “in awe of the natural world” and chose the Australian Iyrebird as her favourite for its “amazing ability to mimic almost any sound” in the natural or non-natural world. She loves how Flock has normalised people of colour “taking up space in the outdoors in such large numbers. Joining a walk and looking back at the winding trail of hundreds of black and brown people enjoying nature makes me feel very emotional in a heart-warming way.” Walks also improve her physical and mental wellbeing.

Finally, poetic Asad calls Flock “an oasis in the desert of lockdown” that continues to nourish his soul post pandemic. “Even though the drought has ended,” he says, “the water still tastes so sweet, and the birds are as free as they’ve always been”. Terenzo credits the community with saving his life through the beauty and connection of new friends. Simple moments like listening to birdsong from his window brighten his day. Asad’s favourite bird is the robin and Terenzo’s is the peregrine falcon. Thank you to the community for sharing so openly.

Two people talk to a massive group of people standing under trees in dappled light

© Dennis Eluyefa @denden_man

Flock has benefitted me by making me calmer. Birdwatching means I’m less likely to be in my head while walking around town because I see birds everywhere. Birdwatching is also mindful, and I enjoy watching birds and all animals navigate city life just like the rest of us. Like Jasmine, I’ve a newfound respect for pigeons too. My favourite birds are swans because they mate for life. I’m a dedicated fan of Mr and Mrs Swan in Victoria Park who you can find relaxing on the lake and sometimes fighting geese.

Ollie and Nadeem have played a masterstroke by making birdwatching cool, all while creating a community that means so much to so many people. Today Flock Together has 25,000 followers on Instagram and a dedicated groupchat with more than 450 members. Yet still, almost four years since Ollie came up with Flock, his vision for nature, and for the world, continues to evolve. Ollie’s latest initiative New Nature aims to reconceptualise ways we connect with and conceive of nature through art and creativity. Like Flock, New Nature is inspired by what’s contained in nature itself – community, freedom, expansiveness and infinite adaptation. 

If Flock has taught me anything, it’s that we can learn a lot from birds – they know community is the most natural thing in the world. If you’re a person of colour, looking for community and connection in nature, sign up and join the Flock today